june 2012

So. We're in Atlanta now, we're mostly moved into our rental place, and I made it through my first week of work. It's been really crazy, but it's starting to feel at least a little bit normal again, and although we've still got a lot of change ahead of us (Will starting a new preschool later in the summer, Julie starting her new job in September, and another move from our rental to our permanent home sometime in the next six to twelve months), I think we're all feeling like the worst is over and we can actually start the next phase of our lives and careers.

It was a very emotional final few days in Baltimore. My farewell party was on Thursday, and I got pretty choked up at the speech from a colleague, and then I broke down saying my final goodbyes on Friday morning. Then I had to take Will to Julie's farewell party, and I think the only reason I didn't break down there was because I was already so emotional spent from saying goodbye to everyone in my office.

I left Maryland around 9 on Saturday morning with our three cats and as much stuff as I could cram into my car and drove straight down to Atlanta in 10 hours, stopping just once for 15 minutes to refuel the car, use the restroom, and get a drink and a snack for the road. The cats did pretty well—two of them talked to me constantly, but no one got sick or had an accident in the car, and there were at least a couple of hours in there where they were tired and/or relaxed enough to nap.

When I got to Atlanta around 7, I quickly unpacked the car and headed to the grocery store for some critical supplies that I just couldn't fit in the car (like cat litter). While I was out, I filled up the car, ordered chinese from a restaurant next to the grocery store, got my supplies and my dinner, and got home to get a bit settled in.

I got the cats set up with litter, food, and water, and then, around 9:30, I sat down to watch TiVo'd episodes of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and eat my dinner. The restaurant didn't seem all that great when I went in, but I was so hungry that I think that may have been the best chinese food I've ever had. I collapsed on my air mattress on the floor within half an hour of finishing eating, and slept about as soundly as I ever have in a strange place on an uncomfortable bed.

I didn't have much time to settle in: last day of work on Friday, drive to Atlanta on Saturday, and start my new job on Monday. But I got reasonably settled in on Sunday morning and got to spend Sunday afternoon with my good friend Regan, who lives in Athens. It was very surreal, being in this completely new place but needing to do completely normal things like buy groceries, wash clothes, cook dinner, etc., and it was nice to have someone familiar to give me a little bit of a reality anchor while I adjusted to this new world.

Monday was a bit weird, but I got a temporary computer set up, had meetings and lunch with a few people in the office I'd gotten to know during my previous visits, and headed out early to pick up a reimbursement check, get my parking pass, and check the mailbox we rented because we weren't sure how package delivery would work in our new neighborhood. Tuesday I had stuff at home to take care of, but I did come into the office for lunch with two senior members of university leadership, and Wednesday was an all-day leadership retreat with the leadership team for my office. Thursday was another half-day (the Pod containing our essentials was delivered early in the afternoon, and Julie and Will arrived around 5), and Friday I stayed home to get unpacked and also to spend time with my family for the first time in a week.

Friday also happened to be our 16th wedding anniversary, and the 24th anniversary of our first date. After a long day of hard work, we had Will's room mostly set up, our bed and dresser in place, the study organized and our computers up and running, and the living room in a sort-of habitable state with the couch and the tv. We celebrated a somewhat-livable home by getting take-out chinese and not unpacking anything else that evening. It was a pretty good day.

My second week of work (this week) has so far been a little less like an out-of-body experience as I've slowly acclimated to the commute, the parking, and office personnel and routines, and it doesn't hurt that I've already been pulled into tons of meetings, so I don't have much time to twiddle my thumbs and figure out what to do all day.

I'm sure it won't be long before my days will be just as packed as they were at my previous job and this will all feel very, very normal, but there are still moments when it hits me that this isn't just some weird vacation, but that I actually live in Atlanta now and that this job, not the one I've been dedicated to for the past ten years, is my real job now. Moments like that, I just have to stop and take a deep breath and wait for the room to stop spinning. It's a very visceral experience, but one that will hopefully decrease in frequency as this life becomes as comfortable for me as the one I lived in Baltimore.

One of the odder and more annoying things I've noticed about Atlanta is that not only do they not seem to have a problem using the same street names over and over again (Peachtree is the most obvious example of this), they also allow these streets to cross one another regularly. A hypothetical example: Peachtree Drive will intersect with Peachtree Way, but you as a driver just see PEACHTREE on both signs at the intersection, with the Drive and the Way in a tiny font that's not useful at normal driving speeds.

So far I've seen the following names intersect themselves: Ponce de Leon, Lavista, Clairmont, Oak Grove, Briarcliff, and Clifton (and those last two intersect roads with the same name at least twice). They're also fond of using variations of the name of the main road as cross streets, i.e., Briar Vista, Briarwillow, Briarlake, Briarmoor, Briar Hills, Briardale, Briarcrest, Briarlyn, Briarmill, etc. (and those are all read examples that intersect with the main Briarcliff Road).

Also: there's an intersection on Church Street where there's an actual church on one corner...and a Church's Fried Chicken on the other.

Something that Will really loves about our rental place in Atlanta is that we're less than a block away from railroad tracks, so several times a day he hears the horn sounding for a freight train and we have to go running out to the street so we can see it go by. He's been in a real train phase for the past few months, wanting to watch videos of trains on YouTube (you would be shocked at just how many of these exist) and reading The Little Engine That Could, so he's completely out of his mind about getting to see real trains go by the house every day.

They come by at night, too, and they blow their horns just as vigorously, but that doesn't really bother me. The house we lived in in Charlottesville right after we got married was out in the country and there was a set of tracks beyond a narrow treeline about 200 yards from the house, and after a couple of weeks I got so they didn't wake me up in the middle of the night. And the first place I lived when I started working in Maryland (when I was spending four days a week at work and then commuting back home to Charlottesville for the other three days) was in a house that was about 20 feet from train tracks. That was too close to sleep through when the trains came by at 3 a.m., but I don't think it's actually possible to live closer to train tracks than I did at that place, so it makes even half a block seem far away and quiet compared to that.

I've been surprised at how dominant trains are in Atlanta; I don't think I've ever been to a city where major freight lines were as much a part of the landscape. You can hear the trains pretty much anywhere in the city; some of the main east-west roads run right next to the tracks (often on both sides of them). Some of the houses we've been looking at (we're not going to be in official house hunting mode until the sale of our house in Maryland is complete, but we have started to look around to get a sense of what's out there) have train tracks relatively close by, and while we do want to be sensitive to the long-term effect of being close to a railroad line on the value of a property, it's pretty safe to say that, for us, being close to the tracks wouldn't be a major negative.

We kept things pretty low key for my second Father's Day as an actual father, mostly because I'm taking some time off this week and we're planning to go have some adventures when things won't be as crowded. We did, however, take Will for his first trip to Morelli's Ice Cream, which my friend Regan introduced to me during my visit to Atlanta back in January and which Julie and I visited again (with Regan) when we were in town in March.

The first time I went I couldn't resist trying the Salted Caramel flavor, and although it was odd enough that I wasn't sure whether I liked it or not, the memory of it stayed with me and I was obsessed with getting it again, so that's exactly what I did on my second visit. It got its hooks even deeper into me that visit, and there was little doubt that Salted Caramel would again be my selection on Father's Day (I think there's a pretty good chance that this will be the only flavor I ever order from Morelli's).

There was a pretty long line when we went, so we had to entertain Will with walks around the parking lot. He also stopped at several tables and had interactions with people—he's a very social kid, and isn't really afraid of other kids or adults. And when he first caught the scent of the waffle cones being made, he said very loudly in line, "Num num!".

We got him Cookies and Cream just to be safe, but Julie and I shared our Salted Caramel with him (she got an ice cream pie made with the flavor) and he seemed to like that just as well. When we were sitting on a bench eating our ice cream, a motorcycle stopped for a light right in front of us, and after they exchanged waves with Will, I got the driver to rev his engire for us, so now Will makes a "vroom vroom!" sound very loudly whenever he sees a motorcycle.

I also got a hand-painted card from Will, but my favorite thing from that day was the picture Julie took of him after he finished the card and she let him go crazy with the paint:

On Monday we went to the Georgia Aquarium in downtown Atlanta, which boasts the largest aquarium tank in the world. We figured that in early summer first thing on a Monday that there wouldn't be many people there, but we were pretty wrong—the parking garage was filling up quickly by the time we got there around 10:30, and there was a decently long line to buy tickets.

We were planning to become members (visit more than once a year and it's cheaper just to be a member, a pricing model that we also encountered at the National Aquarium in Baltimore), so we were waved through to the membership desk and got our membership cards after five or ten minutes. I had to race Will around in his stroller in a quiet corner near the desk, because he was desperate to get out and go see the fish, but you couldn't see anything until you'd had tickets.

The entry was pretty cool—tanks on either side with deep black walls and giant silvery fish lit from the front who are swimming in a constant circle. It gives a real feeling of forward motion, since the fish are swimming quickly in the same direction that you are walking, an effect heightened by the fact that the walkway narrows as you approach the final doorway into the main aquarium space.

Once inside, you are in a giant cental plaza from which you can go to any one of several exhibits. The layout is pretty impressive—even though the place was packed, there was so much room to move around and the exhibits were so well planned that we never felt cramped like we often do in Baltimore. All the exhibits are circular, too, so you just keep walking in the same direction, passing the exhibitis as you go, and eventually you end up back in main plaza area.

We started at the hall that focuses on coral reefs. It opens with a couple of stunning jellyfish tanks, and then moves to a very cool wall-sized reef with a floor-to-ceiling tank (there were a lot of floor-to-ceiling tanks in the aquarium, which is great for a little kid like Will because he get get right up next to the tank without having to be lifted up). I could have spent a long time in either of those rooms, and while Will spent a decent amount of time for a toddler (the jellyfish we moved quickly past, but he probably spent twenty minutes in the reef room), it wasn't really enough for me.

We then moved to the coldwater exhibit, which had sea otters, sea dragons, and a huge tank with two beluga whales, which was Will's favorite thing in the aquarium—we have an episode of Frozen Planet recorded that Will watches over and over, and his favorite segment is a five minute clip about beluga whales migrating en masse to the shallows for a brief period in the arctic summer.

After we spent a considerable amount of time with the beluga whales, it was time for the dolphin show. Will didn't want to leave the whales, but we lured him to the dolphins with the promise of 1) escalators (he loves escalators and elevators these days) and 2) the dolphins themselves, which we described as little whales.

We weren't sure if he'd sit through the whole thing—the dolphin show in Baltimore is the only recent dolphin show we've seen, and from a two year old's perspective, there's not a whole lot to see. But Will loved this one—it was in a huge indoor auditorium, and it was actually a half-hour musical theater piece with lots of special effects (thunder, lightning, rain) in which the dolphins played a pretty peripheral role. The did some really cool tricks, but if you were going expecting a Sea World-style show that combined dolphin backflips with information about the species and bios on each of the individual animals, you would be very disappointed.

For Will, though, it was heaven. He was a little nervous about the house lights going down and wanted to sit in my lap, but once he got settled in, he was enthralled for the entire show, clapping and laughing and even joining in for one part where they want the audience to sing along. We sat on an aisle fairly close to an exit in case we needed to make a quick getaway, but I think we could have left him alone in his seat and he wouldn't have even noticed we were gone until after the show was over.

After the dolphin show was over, he was getting hungry and was also showing signs of sleepiness from being very overstimulated, so we stopped to give him some lunch and then took a quick trip to see the big aquarium. The tunnel that was surrounded by water overhead was pretty cool, and while the big tank room wasn't as impressive as I'd made it out to be in my head, it was still pretty amazing, and if I hadn't known about it beforehand, I think I would have been stunned walking into that room.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to spend long there, and there was very little that I got to look at as long as I wanted to because we moved with Will, and his attention span is not in a place where we can stand and stare a jellyfish for twenty minutes straight. There was also at least one entire exhibit that we didn't walk into at all, so I'd like to come back on a Will-free excursion at some point, but I know we're also going to take him back many times (I'm hoping we can make at least two or three more trips this summer), and eventually we'll get a chance to see it all.

Monday was already a pretty busy day with the trip to the Georgia Aquarium, but that was just the start for me. On the way back home from the aquarium, Will fell asleep in the car, but it was past lunchtime for us so we stopped at Farm Burger in Decatur and Julie ran in to get food while I kept the music going so Will would stay asleep. And then by the time we had finished lunch, I needed to get on the road to Athens ahead of the rush hour traffic because I was meeting Regan for dinner.

Since I was taking the whole week off, my original plan was to go and see her towards the middle of the week to get my first taste of Athens, but a bit of bad luck made it so that the week i was taking off was the same week that she was mostly going to be in NYC for a conference. But she wasn't leaving until Tuesday, so we settled on Monday as really our only option.

I got to her house just after 5, and after chatting for a while on her porch, we went to the National for a drink (gin and tonic for me, some house special with ginger beer in it for her) and then she took me on a tour around town/campus. After wandering for a while, and spending some time looking at the massive football stadium at the heart of the UGA campus (I'm still trying to figure out if locals refer to the school as UGA like everyone in Virginia calls the University of Virginia UVA or if they just say Georgia and expect people to know what they mean like folks in North Carolina do for UNC), we headed to dinner at Ted's Most Best, where we had a light meal of antipasto and salads (plus another drink for me). We sat outside and talked for a long time, enjoying the warm evening and low key crowd.

Before it got too late, we headed back to her house, where we sat on the porch for a bit longer. It was dark and calm and quiet, a nice place to talk or just think about things in someone else's presence.

Tuesday was relatively laid back, but on Wednesday, we took Will on another little adventure, this time to the Yellow River Game Ranch, which is about half an hour from our rental place. We went around lunchtime (stopping for lunch nearby before we went to the ranch), and we were hoping for small crowds and tolerable heat.

Which we mostly got. There were a couple of school groups we ran into right as we got into the park, but they were on their way out and they quickly disappeared. The ranch had several food items you could buy to feed to the animals during your visit, and on their advice we got a couple of sleeves of saltines, a package of graham crackers, a bag of carrots, a bag of feed corn, and a couple of apples. It turns out we should have just gotten a bunch of carrots and maybe one sleeve of saltines—all the larger animals (goats, donkeys, sheep, bears, and deer) liked the carrots, and the birds and squirrels like the crackers. The goats liked the graham crackers well enough, but I would have preferred to give them carrots (I sure hope the animals get nutritious food after hours, since they seem to get a lot of crackers and bread, but I imagine they're so full that even if it's offered they're not necessarily eating a lot of it).

The first animal we ran into was a deer who seemed to have the run of the place—he wasn't confined to a pen—and who wasn't afraid of people at all. Will was able to pet him, feed him, and walk alongside him, happily chattering nonsense at the deer. Most other animals weren't similarly free-roaming, but the pigs, goats, chickens, sheep, and donkeys were in pens right next to the path and you could easily feed them through the wire fences.

The highest density of animals was around a barn structure towards the back of the property, and after we left it, Will kept on trying to break away from us and run back to it. Turns out, he had the right idea—the paved path ended soon after that, and we had to push his stroller through the sand for quite a while, and there really weren't that many animals on the return route back to the entrance (a couple of turtles and a buffalo who stood as far away from the viewing area as possible were the only things of even mild interest).

It was still a fun trip, and he's asked about going to see animals every day since then. I'm sure we'll return at some point, and this time we'll know to go heavy on the carrots.

Back to work. I'm not expecting anything major today, but my calendar tends to fill up surprisingly fast. It's amazing how I've only been here for three weeks and already my calendar is booked just as heavily as it was at my last job after 10 years, and the number of emails that come into my inbox on a daily basis is as large as it was when I left my previous job.

The nice thing about this new job is that there's a much better sense of boundaries from the people here: even if the emails are a flood all day, they stop pretty much right at 5 o'clock and don't pick up again until the start of the workday the next day. Similarly, there is very little email traffic over the weekend, and even when there's a lot going on you still get to feel like you have a life during non-work hours.

Woke up at 4 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep. Long day ahead; not sure how I'm going to get through it.

Yesterday afternoon at work we had a team-building exercise followed by a party to celebrate the end of this admissions cycle. I'm normally not big on these things, especially because I'm so new that I barely know half of my colleagues' names, much less anything about their personalities (which can be very helpful in navigating events like this). It also didn't help that, because I hadn't been added to the office mailing list yet, I didn't get any of the update emails about the schedule, who was on whose team, etc.

But I went into it with a positive attitude and an open mind, and I had a surprisingly good time. I hadn't interacted much with anyone on my team (they pulled people from all different areas of the office), but we all had the same approach to the game: relax, have fun, and don't get overly concerned with winning. It was a scavenger hunt, and the first team to finish got gift cards as prizes. We ended up coming in second, which we were pretty happy with. There were no prizes for second, but we had bungled a couple of things, and all we really wanted was not to come in last.

After the scavenger hunt, there were snacks and drinks, and even though people were free to go at that point (and it was hot outside), most everyone stuck around for at least another half an hour, chatting with their coworkers, and about things besides work. It was interesting comparing how events like this are received by members of this office compared to how they went in my old office—here, even the people who weren't into it showed up (everyone who was in the office that day participated), and no one seemed overly dour about having to participate. There's definitely a different feel to this place, and while I miss the folks I used to work with tremendously, I'm excited about getting to know this group and becoming a part of the team here.

Between reruns of Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America and CMT and two nights of two current programs (Hell's Kitchen and MasterChef), Gordon Ramsay has to have more hours of programming devoted to him each week than any other person on the planet.

The sale of our house in Maryland was officially completed last night, and now we're free to pursue a permanent home here in earnest. We need to figure out a bunch of stuff: who we're going to use as our agent (everyone—and I mean EVERYONE—in this town has a recommendation for a realtor, and I have yet to hear the same name twice), what our price limit is, how much of our money from the sale of the other house we're going to use as a down payment, etc. But we (especially Julie) have already been thinking about that stuff for a few months now, ever since we committed to make the move to Atlanta, so we're hoping to have all that stuff in order in the next couple of weeks so we can be ready to make an offer if we find a place that we like.

The nice thing is that there's no time pressure for us. We have a six month lease on our rental place, so we have to pay for it through November no matter what, and the lease becomes month-to-month after that, so if for some reason we haven't purchased a house by then, we'll be able to get out of the rental quickly once we do find a place. It also means that if we opt to go for a cheaper place that needs some updating, we can have that work done while we continue to leave here so that our first few months in the new place aren't spent trying to unpack and get settled while also dealing with contractors.

Still, it would be nice to have a real home before the holidays. It's surprising how, after only a few weeks, our life in Atlanta feels normal and our memories of our life in Maryland seem so far away, but I don't think we'll really feel like we live here until we've found the house that we'll hopefully be living in for many, many years.

december 2012
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october 2012
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august 2012
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march 2012
february 2012
january 2012

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